Spatial Computing is a blanket term that covers the combined capabilities of some incredibly disruptive innovations in tech that link machines with human activity. Spatial Computing innovations include:
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The Internet of Things (IoT)
Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
Spatial Database and Management Systems (SDBMS)
Spatial Data Science
The word ‘spatial’ is used, rather than location or geography, because it refers to time and physical space. And it is the convergence of our physical and digital worlds.
For instance, wearable tech helps monitor our body health and our surroundings. Smartwatches and fitness tracker devices, such as those made by Fitbit, Garmin, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) etc., can monitor heart rate, pulse, blood pressure and temperature. The data can then link into Strava or Runtastic to map a ride or run.
Meanwhile, professional sports teams are using Catapult (ASX: CAT) wearable tech to monitor players' speed, direction, temperature, general wellbeing etc. These measurements are gathered using a mixture of magnetometers, GPS, gyroscopes, and accelerometers.
This is just one example of tech that exists in the realm of spatial computing, but there are many more.
Spatial Computing Stock Revolution
The reason spatial computing is such a ground-breaking phenomenon is that it offers the potential to revolutionize our world. And in the process, it could very well displace many successful businesses of today, along with traditional working methods.
Now, countless navigation and ride-sharing apps for smartphones and precision agriculture use spatial computing technologies. And these technologies are seeing their use and influence on our lives grow rapidly.
Many of these technologies will not be new to you, as they're becoming commonplace. They’re also entrenched in the technologies of Cathie Wood’s ARK Invest ETFs, which enjoyed a run of buzz and investment during the pandemic.
Here are a few ways spatial computing is emerging and some notable companies already operating in this space.
Augmented Reality: Enhanced Gaming
Augmented reality is rapidly enhancing gaming and entertainment in the consumer space. It also has massive potential for business applications throughout the military, healthcare and manufacturing. With AR and VR, you are still aware of your surroundings, enhancing the virtual experience to a new level.
Spatial computing is dependent on 3D imaging techniques, such as those experienced through AR/VR headsets or glasses-free holographic displays. There are many branded products now in this space, such as Meta's Oculus, the Samsung GearVR and the Sony PlayStation VR.
Google now allows us to experience 3D & augmented reality in Search. This is great fun for immersing children in a physical and virtual learning activity.
Last year German company TeamViewer (FFT: TMV) acquired US augmented reality software firm Upskill. TeamViewer is a secure remote connectivity solution provider, while Upskill is a pioneer in augmented reality (AR) software for frontline workers.
Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta (NASDAQ: META) has gained notoriety and a plummeting share price since doubling down on the Metaverse. Investing in Meta is a simple way to access the spatial computing boom as its in-house Reality Labs plow money into bridging the gap between reality and virtual existence.
ARway Corporation (CSNX: ARWY) is disrupting the Augmented Reality Wayfinding market with a no-code, no-beacon spatial computing platform enabled by visual marker tracking.
ARway is assisting retail by helping their customers save time in locating merchants and products with AR wayfinding while promoting brands and enhancing customer relationships with personalized proximity-based promotions in the airspace with AR.
Matterport (NASDAQ: MTTR) has built a huge data library, and its proprietary tech uses 3D models to allow anyone to take photos of a 3D space and convert it into its “Digital Twin.” Matterport’s spatial data library is being used by customers in education, construction, real estate, and more.
China’s Ahead of the AR Game
In China, companies are rapidly embracing the spatial computing arena. Alibaba (NYSE: BABA, HKG: 9988), Tencent (OTCMKTS: TCEHY, HKG: 0700), Baidu (NASDAQ: BIDU), and JD (NASDAQ: JD) have trained, deployed, and monetized deep learning products at scale.
Hong Kong-based AI company SenseTime is leading the way in virtual reality. SenseAR is its Augmented Reality Platform providing AR solutions for the internet entertainment industry, including human-like avatars for the metaverse, short videos, live streams, image beautification, and social media apps.
Home electronics company Xiaomi (HKG: 1810) is heavily investing in IoT device start-up companies as well as 5G and other tech start-ups.
Then there’s US camera application developer Snap (NYSE: SNAP), which uses augmented reality lenses in its arsenal.
Spatial computing leading medical advancements
3D printing is a high-growth industry set to transform the manufacturing landscape. ARK Invest fully supports this thesis and has created a 3D printing fund based on The Total 3D-Printing Index, which attempts to track the price movements of stocks of companies involved in the 3D Printing industry.
ARK was a 20% shareholder in Organovo Holdings, Inc. (NASDAQ: ONVO), but that stake has dropped to less than 3%. ONVO is a 3D biology company delivering scientific and medical breakthroughs using its 3D bioprinting technology. It has even 3D printed a human liver.
The company’s 3D bioprinting technology creates tissues that are both spatially patterned and three-dimensional.
Berkeley Lights (NASDAQ: BLI), another ARK stock, uses digital cell biology to advance the field of spatial profiling, allowing researchers to visualize the 3D-spatial organization of genetic material in tissues.
Meanwhile, Mojo Vision is building the world’s first augmented reality smart contact lens.
Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) has indicated its desire to launch a fully autonomous driving service within the next two years, although it now faces a criminal probe from the Department of Justice over its self-driving car claims.
Meanwhile, Waymo launched its driverless Robo-taxi to the public via a pilot scheme in Phoenix in October 2020. And Apple is expected to launch an autonomous vehicle in the coming years.
The self-driving car business requires huge sums of money in research and development and is not an easy business to make progress in. Therefore, big players such as Tesla and Apple are most likely to be the eventual winners.
Apple has some involvement in spatial computing through its various product development processes. For instance, its iPads are equipped with LiDAR sensors, which combine lasers and radar to provide spatial depths in the external world. LiDAR stands for light detection and ranging. It’s widely used in autonomous vehicle technology.
Apple’s AirPods Pro features spatial audio, which may be crucial in making advanced AR glasses work.
Tesla is possibly the world’s biggest player in the ‘spatial computing’ space, according to Robert Scoble, a self-proclaimed ‘Spatial Computing evangelist’.
Autonomous drone delivery using spatial computing
US enterprise autonomous drone manufacturer Skydio raised $170m in a Series D funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz’s Growth Fund in February 2021.
In 2019 AiRXOS, a unit of GE Aviation (LON: GEC) (NYSE: GE), successfully delivered a human kidney via drone. It traveled from Baltimore’s St. Agnes Hospital to the university’s medical center, 2.7 miles away.
Drone delivery is an area of spatial computing getting set to transform how interconnected our world is. AiRXOS is working on shaping a new era of autonomous air transportation.
Transforming agricultural tech
While autonomous vehicles seem new, autonomous tractors have been around for a while. And precision agriculture is another area that’s transforming the way food is produced.
John Deere (NYSE: DE) has begun implementing spatial computing solutions using robotics and AI to improve manufacturing capabilities and boost global crop yields.
The famous tractor company entered into an allied distribution agreement with Smart Guided Systems to sell its Smart-Apply Intelligent Spray Control System for use with John Deere tractors in high-value crop applications. This system uses LiDAR to help farmers reduce the number of chemicals they use on their crops.
The global augmented reality in agriculture market was valued at $0.84 million in 2021 and is projected to reach $4.89 million by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 34.49% during the forecast period 2022-2027.
AI covers computing that develops machines that think and work like humans. This can be in the form of speech recognition, problem-solving, learning and planning. Examples of companies leading the use of AI include:
StretchSense is headquartered in Auckland with offices in Seattle and Edinburgh. The company has more than 200 gaming and visual effects (VFX) studios using its technology worldwide.
StretchSense will expand its European headquarters in Edinburgh with the establishment of a Centre of Excellence in AI and Spatial Computing.
StretchSense completed a $7.6m (NZ$13.3m) Series A investment led by Scotland-based Par Equity. This money will be used to further accelerate its global expansion and will also focus on developing new sensor technology to enable high-precision tracking in emerging applications such as the rapidly-developing corporate virtual training industry, which is estimated to be worth more than $300bn in 2022 and expected to grow to more than $550bn by 2027.
Snowflake is a cloud-based data-warehousing company that went public in 2020. Harnessing data, it powers many vital businesses. Strava, the GPS tracking app and social network for athletes, uses Snowflake to power its business. Snowflake’s Geospatial data support in its Cloud Data Platform is introducing intelligent security solutions helping its customers increase profits while reducing fraud and risks.
Palantir Technologies Inc (NYSE: PLTR) is a US software company serving government agencies and private companies. Founded by Billionaire Peter Thiel, it specializes in big data analytics. In Palantir’s IPO S1 SEC registration it states Spatial Information Management as a software category its platform addresses. It also enhances raw video footage with geospatial information and overlays based on other data sources in its Palantir Gotham video application.
Moderna is a US pharmaceutical and biotech company. Moderna’s technology platform inserts synthetic nucleoside-modified messenger RNA (mRNA) into human cells. AI is a big deal in modern medicine, particularly in R&D. It has the ability to lift success rates to up to 50% while reducing time-to-market, thereby cost-saving and profit-enhancing. This has been core to the company’s ability to bring its leading COVID-19 vaccine to achieve efficacy levels of 94.5% in a rapid time frame.
A spectrum of possibilities
Spatial Computing covers an enormous array of possible investments in a multitude of exciting technologies and industries. It offers huge scope for innovative improvements in our lives, but it also comes with ethical concerns around privacy and security.
Many big names are already extensively deploying investment in R&D in many of these spatial computing areas.
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), Meta (NASDAQ: META), Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOGL), Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), NVIDIA (NASDAQ: NVDA), Uber (NYSE: UBER), IBM (NYSE: IBM) and Oracle (NYSE: ORCL) are all involved in one way or another, and public government agencies are getting in on the action too.
Weather forecasting, anticipating outbreaks of infectious diseases, making homes safe for the elderly and disabled, and reducing road-traffic accidents and friendly fire incidents in combat are all potential benefits of ongoing investment in spatial computing.
Article updated November 8, 2022.